By Walid Shoebat (Shoebat Exclusive)
For years, I had to endure arguments about salvation; is it by “faith” or by “works”. Wars were fought and schisms sprouted out of other schisms and countless useless books have tirelessly tried to twist God’s simple message on faith.
To me it was very simple; when such arguments erupted over this issue between Christians, I would always tend to bring in a Jew named Reb Tevye from the movie Fiddler on the Roof to solve the problem. Tevye’s approach solves this doctrinal issue in seconds. To the one who said “its by faith,” I’d say, “your right” and to the other who said, “it’s by works,” I’d say “you are also right,” than to the expected third who strongly objected crying out loudly that, “both can’t be right,” I’d say “you are also right”.
Heresy starts when someone asks a question that is fundamentally misleading.
Here, and before you crucify me, let me explain by asking a question, “Is Jesus God or man?”
If someone says He is “God,” he is right and if someone else stands up and says, “He is man,” he is also right.
But what is definitely wrong and is not in the Bible is to apply the words “alone” and “only” in a haphazard way.
Is Jesus only man?
To say “yes” is heresy and it is what Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims did.
Is Jesus only God?
To say “yes” is also heresy and is what the Monophysite heresy did.
Monos (only/alone), physis meaning “nature”, so to them Jesus had a single nature; that Jesus is God “alone”.
And this is why when St Paul speaks frequently of “justification by faith,” he never once referred to the use “alone”.
Am I then against the use of sola fide, “faith alone”? No. I am simply arguing that these terms should not be used in the strictest sense, what is necessary is that we understand the biblical definitions and not man’s. And when it comes to sola fide, faith alone, the Catholic Church has actually allowed Catholic theologians to use the word “alone” and the word “faith” in the same sentence way before Martin Luther arrived to the scene; Origen, Hilary, Basil, Ambrosiaster, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Bernard and Theophylact all used it. (1)
Both Protestant and Catholic used the term. But I must be intellectually honest here, the difference between Luther and the Catholic Church was that Luther was vehemently anti-James:
“Only the papists accept James on account of the righteousness of works, but my opinion is that it is not the writing of an apostle. Someday I will use James to fire my stove.” (2)
Luther even wrote regarding James 2:
“In the first place it (the Epistle of James) is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works [2:24]. It (again, the Epistle of James) says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac [2:21]; though in Romans 4[:2-22] St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15 [:6]. (3)
“We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school [Wittenberg], for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any.” (4)
And even more Anti-Semitism cocktailed with Anti-Jewish law:
“If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out – chase yourself to the Jews” (5)
When some Protestants focus on attacking works it had it’s drawbacks. R.C. Sproul wrote on this issue that Protestants are divided into two groups; the first group (which he belongs to) believes that true saving faith must necessarily and inevitably yield work of obedience. If it does not then it is not true (and non-saving) faith.
I tend to agree with Sproul. But someone could argue, “but what about the thief on the cross?” For this I argue by asking, “wait till you are hoisted on one the first moment you believed and you are justified by faith and by your pains”. At a moment of such great anguish, that you still saw yourself as a sinner unworthy to go to heaven would speak volumes of both, your faith and your works.
The second group, according to Sproul, believes that faith should, but not always, produce work of obedience.
The first group accuses the second to follow a form of antinomianism while the second accuses the first of adding works to faith as condition of justification. (6)
And this brings me to Luther. Luther accused Johannes Agricola and his sectaries of using Antinomianism heresy. He had coined the term to designate the teachings of Agricola who was pushing a mistaken and perverted interpretation of Luther’s doctrine of “justification by faith alone” to a far-reaching but logical conclusion, asserted that, as good works do not promote salvation, so neither do evil works hinder it. (7)
But while Luther coined Antinomianism as heresy, he also advocated a form of it:
“Good works are bad and are sin like the rest.” (8)
Luther also stated:
“There is no scandal greater, more dangerous, more venomous, than a good outward life, manifested by good works and a pious mode of life. That is the grand portal, the highway that leads to damnation.” (9)
Luther here clearly defies the Bible, which stated:
“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
But it wasn’t only James who was rebuked by Luther. John the Revelator got Luther’s share of wrath:
“to my mind, it [the book of Revelation] bears upon it no marks of an apostolic or prophetic character…Everyone may form his own judgment of this book; as for myself, I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it.” (10)
Thankfully, other cooler heads than Luther’s prevailed and Revelation, James, Hebrews, 2 Peter, 3 John and Jude remained in the Protestant Bible.
Luther’s rebuke of James and John was never in Scripture. So why should I listen to Luther on his attacks on Scripture?
Luther instead of harmonizing Scripture was pitting Paul against James making his assertions as if it was authoritatively Scripture.
We need to be careful on how we use “Faith Alone”. James sets the record straight:
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).
Now I probably heaped a ton of curses upon me since many will accuse me of pushing “works” as a form of salvation. God forbid.
My point is that we need to be careful how we analyze the term “faith alone” in that people use it to mislead the faithful and introduce antinomianism. Luther in fact warned of this since it was him who coined the definition antinomianism, in which salvific faith need not be a type that will produce works of obedience to Christ or the Moral Law, which is a view most who hold to sola fide (faith alone) reject.
Martin Luther, who coined the phrase, opposed antinomianism, he is recorded as stating:
“Works are necessary for salvation but they do not cause salvation; for faith alone gives life.” (11)
It then became obvious, and to use Luther’s definition, that James, if I may say, used the ‘Reb Tevye analogy,’ unified the reality of faith and works in the true essence of the Jewish faith, as to how good works completes our faith:
“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26)
Without works, it is as if the body is without spirit, it is dead.
But here is my struggle; why can’t these simple verses be sufficient? Do I need Luther or his terminology to interpret these simple verses?
If it is Sola Scriptura, it must be then “Sola Scriptura” without even having to resort to Luther. If we insist on the Catholic to abandon the writings of their sages and insist they use Scripture alone, why can’t they also ask us to abandon our sages? How many are willing to do away with Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Spurgeon, C. S. Lewis … and just carry our Bibles Alone?
I must honestly admit, I like reading Lewis (Protestant) and I also like G.K. Chesterton (Catholic). Is this an unpardonable sin?
Sola Scriptura, is a doctrine that is defined like this; the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.
But lets face it, without the sages, history and Church fathers we are all in serious trouble. God gave us the Church, holy men and wise leaders. The wisdom is how do we each use our mental faculties to reach to the truth.
We each must choose. So choose wisely.
(1) Origen, Commentarius in Ep. ad Romanos, cap. 3 (PG 14.952). Hilary, Commentarius in Matthaeum 8:6 (PL 9.961). Basil, Hom. de humilitate 20.3 (PG 31.529C). Ambrosiaster, In Ep. ad Romanos 3.24 (CSEL 81.1.119): “sola fide justificati sunt dono Dei,” through faith alone they are justified by a gift of God; 4.5 (CSEL 81.1.130). John Chrysostom, Hom. in Ep. ad Titum 3.3 (PG 62.679 [not in Greek text]). Cyril of Alexandria, In Joannis Evangelium 10.15.7 (PG 74.368 [but alludes to Jas 2:19]). Bernard, In Canticum serm. 22.8 (PL 183.881): “solam justificatur per fidem,” is justified by faith alone. Theophylact, Expositio in ep. ad Galatas 3.12-13 (PG 124.988).
(2) Weimar, “Tischreden “ (5) p. 5854
(3) Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pages 395 – 396
(4) Lecture at Wittenberg, 54, 424-425
(5) Letter to Melanchthon, August 1, 1521, American Edition, Luther’s Works, vol. 48, pp. 281-82
(6) R.C Sproul, Faith Alone, P.p. 25
(7) Loewen, Harry, Luther and the Radicals, P.p. 126
(8) From Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III, pg. 47
(9) From Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. II, pg. 128??
(10) Sammtliche Werke, 63, pp169-170, ‘The Facts About Luther’, O’Hare, TAN Books, 1987, p203
(11) What Luther says, page 1509